IOM Report Links Illness and Gulf War Service

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By Jennifer Lubell

A link exists between Gulf War service and post-traumatic stress disorder and multisymptom illness, although the causes of these symptoms remain unclear, the Institute of Medicine concluded in a new report.

“Military service in the Persian Gulf War is a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder in some veterans and is also associated with multisymptom illness; gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome; substance abuse, particularly alcoholism; and psychiatric problems such as anxiety disorder,” stated the report, which was produced by the IOM’s Committee on Gulf War and Health.

Evidence also exists that service in the war may be linked to other conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic widespread pain, sexual difficulties, and death due to causes such as car accidents in years following deployment, although data on this subject are limited, according to the report.

“It is likely that multisymptom illness results from the interactions between environmental exposures and genes, and genetics may predispose some individuals to illness,” the committee noted. However, in examining recent epidemiologic literature, the IOM panel couldn’t draw any strong conclusions about what chemical, drug, pollutant, or other substance could have caused these symptoms.

The panel recommended a renewed commitment to improve identification and treatment of multisymptom illness in Gulf War veterans. “The path forward should include continued monitoring of Gulf War veterans and development of better medical care for those with persistent, unexplained symptoms,” it recommended.

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